Recently I was with a family going through a kind of hell as so many do. We all go through them and many of us go through them unawares. A terrible loss, a horrible abuse of relationship, a diagnosis, a mother drinking too much, a father disconnected to himself or overly connected. And worst of all – the effects of trauma suffered as children which are playing out, drop by drop, every day in so many lives and causing so much pain for others as a result.
So many people walk around on the planet carrying the wounds of their childhood and entirely undiagnosed – unmedicated and unconfined. Mothers who were un-bounderied, fathers who were absent or vice versa, set in motion a kind of pain cocktail which can and will affect their children and colleagues throughout their life. There is no application system for parenthood. We must earn a license to drive a car, but having a child or a gun is unregulated, and the results can be seen at dinner tables, nightly news and the hallways of any church.
People walk around in fine clothes, bright smiles and holding agendas with white knuckles; all the while, just beneath the surface, they struggle with terrible wounds suffered in their first seven years and never diagnosed nor healed and which spread social diseases of anger, resentment, manipulation through families and communities. And all the while they are absolutely convinced that they are just fine – it’s the rest of humanity that is messed up.
In seminary we are taught to carry transference. It’s priest-craft 101. We are taught that the pain and sorrow, regret and repression, old wounds and new ones which people carry around inside them will be projected onto the clergy. We are also taught that the people doing this will have no idea they are doing it at all. Clergy are easy targets. We stand there, trying to help. And so we are the first to get sucker-punched because, well, who will know?
As the cathedral moves through this time of transition after such a difficult season in its life, we will all need to be kind to each other. It will take decades to heal. We will need to assume good intention. We will need to forgive each other a lot. And we will need to try hard to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and why we are saying what we are saying.
Recently at the dinner table we did not talk about the dad who was so ill. That was easy to see – to know. Instead we talked about what it means to be a family, what it means to forgive over and over and over, what it means to help without being asked and what it means to assume good intention even when disappointed. We talked bout what it means to express grief appropriately and what it means to repress it so that the steam bulls up and burns others by sneaking out the side of our pressure-cooker selves. We all chose a word which expressed how we were feeling and it was obvious that talking about feelings in that family was rare, new.
There are not enough therapists to heal the wounds people carry, even if people were courageous enough to try to get help. But what we can do in families and in churches is to decide to exchange fear for curiosity. That one little step of great humility is the beginning of wholeness. Many are too attached to their fear and their opinions to be able or willing to be curious.They just bully others until they get the agreement which supports a flagging self-esteem. But there is another way. It only takes a few to begin to change the PH balance in a community or family.
I do not know what the Holy Spirit is or how she works. But what I do know, to my core, is that she laughs, she is utterly fearless and asks a lot of questions. And might have a wand. I mean, maybe.